How the War in Iraq Gave Us ObamaCare



Did the war in Iraq make way for ObamaCare? The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein links the biggest foreign policy blunder of the Bush administration to the biggest domestic policy blunder of the Obama presidency:

In 2004, with the memory of the defeat of the Clinton health care plan still fresh enough in people's minds, the idea of a Democratic president passing universal health care legislation would have seemed like a distant liberal fantasy.

In fact, in the Democratic primary, even Howard Dean's health care proposal (that mostly built on existing government programs) was tame by today's standards.But by 2006, with sectarian violence escalating in Iraq, President Bush's approval rating had cratered and Democrats were able to take over both chambers of Congress in an election that was largely a backlash against the war. Exit polls showed that 56 percent of Americans who voted in that year's midterm elections opposed the Iraq War—and 80 percent of that group voted for Democrats.

Suddenly, there was a change in what seemed politically possible. In 2007, as the Democratic presidential primary season got under way, emboldened liberal activists were able to convince all of the top contenders to release universal health care plans.

The 2008 economic collapse may have given the final boost to Obama's candidacy, but Americans' disillusionment with the Iraq War created the foundation for his call for change. Though there was little in the way of policy differences between Obama and his rivals, led by Hillary Clinton, one of the most significant factors that set him apart was that he had opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.

This allowed him to argue to voters that what he lacked in experience he made up for in judgment—an argument that he'd continue to make in the general election against Republican Sen. John McCain.On top of Obama's 2008 victory, congressional Democrats were able to build on their gains from 2006, so that once all the votes were counted (and Sen. Arlen Specter defected) they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It was only the lopsided nature of the majorities that allowed a plan as ambitious as Obamacare to become law.

He goes on, but the gist is that disillusionment with Iraq caused a liberal backlash that made a large-scale health care. I'm not sure I would go quite as far as Klein, but it's a compelling, provocative argument.

What I'd add is that the Bush-era focus on foreign policy, and on defending a war that steadily decreased in popularity, allowed the Republicans to coalesce around a wartime agenda that had little need for coherent domestic policy. The GOP invested an awful lot of energy in defending President Bush and the war in Iraq, and very little in innovative domestic policy ideas. Health policy wasn't exactly ignored, but it wasn't a major priority. There was no sustained push for market-driven reforms: Indeed, the Bush administration's biggest health care push was an unfunded expansion of Medicare.

So when the time came to debate ObamaCare, Republicans showed up with nothing to offer except partisan opposition. ObamaCare is such a mess that the just-say-no approach almost worked. But the party's efforts were almost certainly hampered by the fact that the bulk of the GOP had essentially ignored the details of health policy since the last time they united to oppose a Democratic president's health care overhaul, the HillaryCare fight of the 1990s.

Republicans had used much of that time to defend a particular war of choice and an interventionist foreign policy outlook to support it. Democrats, on the other hand, had used the long interim period between health policy battles to build a huge policy advocacy infrastructure. They had intellectual support for a mandate-and-regulate style overhaul; they also had a just-barely-large-enough political coalition to support the push.

Basically, Republicans made war a policy priority at the expense of domestic policy, health care in particular. So when it came time to focus on domestic priorities, Republicans weren't terribly well prepared.